Unlike many people I know, I’ve never wanted to write the story of my life. And I’ve come to belatedly believe that this lack of autobiographic desire on my part has affected my fiction writing, and not necessarily for the best.
I say “belatedly” because I’ve been writing fiction for close to 15 years, but only a few years ago did I start to readjust what I now see as a rather closed and negative mindset I’d been maintaining.
In the past, I used to consciously avoid drawing on my own life and experiences when writing fiction. I’ll admit that I probably got a bit snobby about it, making blithe statements like “I prefer to write about lives far more interesting than my own,” and looking down my nose at authors who wrote what I considered to be thinly veiled memoir, but who positioned their work as fiction. Frankly, I thought they were being both lazy and self-absorbed in doing so. I’ve since reevaluated that stance.
So what has changed? Well, despite being an opinionated bastard, I do pride myself on actually listening to others, particularly those who are further along in their literary journeys. So I pay attention to the advice and insights of successful authors, and I make an attempt to try their advice on for size before dismissing it. To that end, today I’d like to share some insights I gained from two very different writers: WU’s own Barbara O’Neal, and the author of the Jack Reacher series, Lee Child.
A wise woman weighs in on the stories we each own
Back in 2011, I was fortunate enough to see Barbara O’Neal presenting at the RWA Women’s Fiction Conference (back when the RWA still acknowledged women’s fiction as a valid category, but don’t get me started on that sore subject). At the time, Barbara was serving as the “Wise Woman” for the Women’s Fiction chapter, a title she more than deserved. The entire conference was terrific, but I think I got the biggest personal takeaway from Barbara’ segment, where she made this simple but powerful statement:
“We’re all stuck with our own stories.”